While flying on commercial airliners within the United States remains "incredibly safe," there are places abroad where aging fleets, substandard equipment and out-of-date safety rules make air travel more risky, a former industry spokesman told Newsmax TV
David Fuscus, formerly of the Air Transport Safety Association of America, told "MidPoint" host Ed Berliner that the downing of Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 in war-torn Ukraine shows that one practice in particular — allowing civilian aircraft over conflict zones — has to be rethought.
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"The conventional wisdom has been for a long time that it's safe to fly over conflict zones with all airlines because you're high enough that you're out of the range of weapon systems that are normally controlled by states," said Fuscus, president and CEO of the Washington, D.C. public relations firm Xenophon Strategies.
"Clearly, the system needs review," said Fuscus. "It needs review on behalf of all the carriers around the world." Fuscus said a global patchwork of rules and regulations governs civilian air routes and whether they intersect with trouble spots.
"The problem here is we've got a diffuse system by which governments decide whether or not their national air carriers fly over areas of conflict," he said. "There's an international organization that issues guidance on this, but it's individual governments that make [the] decisions."
Fusco explained that in many countries, governments also own the local airlines, and that while having an airline can be a great source of national pride, in some poorer countries the planes, maintenance and infrastructure are not as advanced as they are in more developed countries.
He cited Africa as a region where "a lot can be done to improve aviation safety." "Five percent of the world's air traffic occurs in Africa and 25 percent of the world's accidents occur there," he said. "That just shows you that something is wrong."
Fuscus said that where the United States has safety concerns, it tends to be in general aviation — small aircraft operations that are not part of the major-carrier or cargo-transport networks.
He said a "rash of small plane crashes that we've been seeing lately" are likely the result of errors by inexperienced pilots operating in conditions — such as severe weather — they're not equipped to handle.
"It's a world of difference between commercial air travel and general aviation," said Fuscus.
He said that one reason for the safety of U.S. commercial air travel is stepped-up airport security after 9/11, and he argued that all the protective measures that annoy modern-day fliers are "something that people have to put up with."
"There's people constantly looking for ways to bring planes down," he said. "There's no bigger trophy for a terrorist than to bring down a commercial aircraft."
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